The PSNI police chief, Hugh Orde, has infuriated nationalists by insisting that the mainstream IRA must permanently disband before any moves are made to reduce the British military garrison in Ireland.

Orde's statement runs sharply contrary to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and poses a major problem for the peace process and the British government.

Mr Orde said he is not ready to endorse steps to reduce the British military occupation, even though he believes the IRA is not planning to restart its armed struggle.

He said: ``We need to be convinced they've gone away for ever, certainly before the normalisation agenda kicks in.

``My advice to the [British] government at the moment is that we don't see those conditions. Therefore, I don't see normalisation as a debating point.''

His comments have firmly placed him in the mould of his militarist RUC predecessors such as Ronnie Flanagan, who sought and failed to defeat the IRA by force. They a summit in Belfast on Tuesday involving the British and Irish Prime Ministers which failed to boost confidence that the governments are serious about implementing the 1998 accord.

In particular, a British programme for demilitarisation, which should have been completed by now, never emerged following the signing of the Agreement. The revelation that, six years later, the new police chief is advising against any such programme has underlined republican fears that British `securocrats' have hijacked their government's agenda in Ireland.

The effects of this policy are visible in border areas and throughout the Six Counties as the British Army enlarged and reinforced bases and engaged in provocative street patrols in republican areas.

Pressure was growing tonight for the British government to disown Orde's statement.

Michelle Gildernew, the Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, said the PSNI chief did not know what he was talking about.

``Demilitarisation is not an option for Mr Orde or his political masters in Whitehall. It is a central component of the Good Friday Agreement. Nationalists and republicans see demilitarisation as a touchstone issue for the British commitment to this process.

``Demilitarisation is not an option for Mr Orde or his political masters in Whitehall. It is a central component of the Good Friday Agreement.

``Nationalists and republicans see demilitarisation as a touchstone issue for the British commitment to this process.''

``He appears wedded to the old failed military agenda which has dominated policing in the six counties for so long.''

Ms Gildernew added: ``If Mr Orde had any knowledge of the community which he purports to serve then he would be well aware that the issue of British military occupation is much more than a debating point.

``If he had to deal with hundreds of complaints from young people being harassed by members of the PSNI and British army then he might begin to grasp the seriousness of this situation.''


British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last night said intensive negotiations were needed to prevent the political deadlock from drifting into the summer.

After meetings with the North's political parties at Hillsborough Castle outside Belfast, Mr Blair said: ``What we have got to try and do is to make sure we get a way forward set out before the June elections.''

In Dublin this evening, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said the two governments now accepted that the IRA leadership ``did everything that was agreed and expected'' in October.

He called for a ``two-pronged'' approach to unblock the impasse -- the implementation by the two governments of their outstanding commitments and the restoration of the political institutions while talks continue with the DUP.

However, in Belfast yesterday, both Mr Blair and Mr Ahern emphasised that there needed to be an end to IRA and unionist paramilitary activity if the process was to move forward.

After meetings with the parties Mr Blair said: ``What we have got to try and do is to make sure we get a way forward set out before the June elections.

``I don't think we can wait and let this drift until the summer. I think it is important that we deal with this now. We will continue to have informal discussions with the parties and when we can move into a more intensive engagement we will do so.

``The issues are clear. They have been clear all along. There has got to be, on the one hand, an end completely and totally and definitively to paramilitary activity and on the other hand there has to be a willingness to share power across the community and across the political parties.''

Mr Ahern said the parties needed to fast-track the situation and to get the North's power-sharing institutions back up and running within a reasonable timeframe.

Mr Ahern also said there were other important matters such as human rights and equality issues which they were working on.

He noted that every party he and Mr Blair met at Hillsborough yesterday had raised the issue of paramilitarism.

The Taoiseach warned against a political vacuum prolonging the political deadlock in Northern Ireland.

``The present vacuum is not a satisfactory situation,'' he said.

``It cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. We would prefer ourselves not to be pushed into that position.''

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams criticised the two prime ministers for focusing primarily on the issues of the IRA and whether unionism was willing to share power.

The West Belfast MP, who welcomed the commitment of both governments' to try to step up efforts to break the political deadlock, said both leaders needed to face up to their responsibilities under the Good Friday Agreement which had still not been implemented.

He also said Sinn Féin wanted to explore the DUP's position through direct dialogue with the Mr Paisley's party.

``I wrote to Mr Paisley shortly after the election and I still haven't yet got a reply,'' the Sinn Féin leader said.

``It's a bit of an absurdity that they will now go into television studios with us, they will now debate across a table with us in a very public manner, but won't sit down at this point and discuss those matters.

``We want to believe that unionism wants this process to work so we are open to be convinced and want to explore the DUP's position.''

In a reference to the violence in the Middle East, Mr Adams said there were other examples around the world of what happened when political proc-esses broke down.

Sinn Féin, he said, was wedded to making the process work.

``When we put up to the governments their responsibilities it is because we believe they too have a responsibility to empower those of us who want this process to work,'' Mr Adams said.

The West Belfast MP repeated his view that the 26-County administration was engaged in a process of trying to ``criminalise'' his party in Dublin.

He said Mr Ahern had assured him during yesterday's discussions that was not the case.

``We stand here on the strength of our mandate and to have the type of undermining of the efforts we have put together in the political process and the peace process is just not good.

``I have gone through a long period of being non-critical of successive Irish governments and I think we have a good relationship with this Taoiseach throughout this process.

``But as people who suffered and lost dear friends in 1981 over the issue of criminalisation (in hunger strikes) we resent it bitterly on a personal level.''

DUP leader Ian Paisley said yesterday that there could be no blank cheques given to the IRA and Sinn Féin.

``Now is the time for the government to demonstrate to Sinn Féin and the IRA that the threat of terror will no longer buy them further concessions,'' he said.

Mr Paisley said Sinn Féin must ``leave the past behind them'' in a way that is clear and durable.

UUP leader David Trimble said prisoners should be returned to jail in light of the allegations of IRA activity.

``What we suggested to the government is that, in the event of there being a negative report by the monitoring commission on any paramilitary organisation, recognition of ceasefire should be withdrawn.

``The Northern Ireland Office should examine on a case-by-case basis whether members of the organisation who have benefited from the early release programme should be recalled to prison,'' Mr Trimble said.

Gerry Adams said his party had sought a different structure to the Review in order to move beyond the current impasse.

And he described as ``significant'' that British Secretary of State Paul Murphy echoed remarks today by the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern earlier in the month regarding the implementation of the October deal by republicans and what Mr. Murphy today described as ``substantial decommissioning''.

The arranged sequence of events in the October deal saw Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble back out of an agreement to restore the Belfast Assembly following an IRA act of decommissioning, complaining of a lack of ``transparency''.

The two governments then refused to implement their Joint Declaration, which includes a plan to implement outstanding commitments of the original 1998 Agreement.

In the first week March, Mr Ahern confirmed there was an agreement between the two governments and General de Chastelain's arms body, and that the act of decommissioning by the mainstream IRA was ``substantive''.

``That was and remains the stated position. It was considered satisfactory and in line with what we expected. It was a commitment with which the two Governments were happy.

``Unfortunately, it did not satisfy others. Certainly, there was no difficulty with the two governments about it.''

Mr Adans said it was clear that ``it was the failure of the UUP and the two governments to follow through with their agreed contributions to the sequence that created the political impasse in the process today.

``It also demonstrates that there is one blockage in the current impasse, which can easily be resolved and that is the outstanding commitments of the two governments.

``The two governments need to immediately implement what they agreed in October and inject the necessary confidence and momentum back into the process.'' ``

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